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‘Transcendence’: an overly complicated sci-fi love story

Warner Brothers Pictures
Warner Brothers Pictures

The new Johnny Depp movie “Transcendence” opened this past weekend to less than ideal reviews and box office standing. Opening in number 4 with just over $10 million, failing to even come close to dethroning “Rio 2” or “Captain America: The Winter Solider”. Part of this movies lack of audience appeal is the fact that it fails to find a true identity or be able to decide just what it wants to say.

Wally Pfister, an acclaimed cinematographer wildly known for his work with Christopher Nolen, makes his directorial debut with this movie. Where this movie fails in an overall standpoint to completely come together, at times it does show touches, moments of cinematic brilliance. Pfister may not want to “quit his day job” or in the future, he will make better choices. Jack Paglan's screenplay fails to come together in a cohesive story. From the major points of writing and directing, this movie seemed almost doomed from the start.

The plot of this overly complicated love story follows Dr. Will Caster (Depp), an AI researcher and his team as they try to create a greater than human intelligence. Dr. Caster and his partner and wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are presenting their findings to potential sponsors when the worst happens and the entire program is attacked including Dr. Caster. Many of the researchers are killed and we come to discover that the bullet, which shot Will, was laced with radioactive material.

Will’s days are numbered and Evelyn will do anything to ensure that he lives on, by uploading his consciousness into their machine dubbed PINN and creating just what they have been working so hard to create. The ability to merge machine and human to create a copy of the Will Evelyn had lost. Will’s best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) a fellow researcher questions these actions yet in order to be a good friend, he reluctantly agrees to help with the process. After Will’s death, Evelyn becomes lost in holding on to her husband, in whatever form and Max is left to question his decisions.

Depp underwhelms in his performance of a doctor, husband and eventually AI. Although he portrays only an imitation of a human on a computer screen throughout most of the movie, he is supposed to be motivated by real human emotions, which fail to translate onscreen. Hall although audiences might empathize with her motives, who wouldn’t want to hold on to someone they lost, her performance at times, feels as if she might be robotic. Bettany’s performance offers a welcome relief, he is someone who we empathize with and can identify with his struggle between human life and the power of technology.

As the story continues, audiences learn the attack on Will and his team was done by a group called R.I.F.T (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) led by Bree (Kate Mara). They desire to shut down the work for Dr. Caster for fear of what effect it will have on the future of humanity. The story between this power struggle of technological advancement and humanity might have been what saved this movie, but since it seemed a mere sub-plot, it didn’t get enough development to do so.

Evelyn ends up running off to a deserted almost ghost town called Brightwood with the guidance of computer Will. Here is where the story ultimately works its way to its ultimate demise. Evelyn becomes consumed with keeping Will alive in any way necessary. The R.I.F.T group, after taking Max hostage and “turning” him, team up with the F.B.I to take down the all too powerful computer Will and his created minions. Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) are the lead investigators into the company and must discover a way to shut it all down before it is too late. It is a fight to the death for not only love but also humanity.

Is it a movie about the battle between technology and humanity? Maybe, but there have been much better and more involved movies that tackle this question. Is it a love story dealing with AI? Could be, but neither leading man nor woman really draws us in and cause audiences to root for their love. In the end, it fails to give the audience a clear answer for what type of movie it wants to be. It fails not only to translate into money at the box office, but also to work its way into the hearts of the audience, which would be the only thing that could have saved it.

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